Chewing, gnawing, yanking. Just some of the verbs used to describe the act of nail-biting, mostly uttered by those who are disgusted by it (of which there are a lot).
I've been a biter for as long as I can remember. This statement, said by any biter, is usually met with an instant assumption that we must be anxious people. I don't remember being particularly anxious when I was 7 (Monster Munch and Fuzzy Felt were pretty easy-going), ergo, I just started doing it and couldn't stop. I found a comforting rhythm in biting the tips off and reaped satisfaction - the way you feel when you have a wee after queuing for 45 minutes (not unheard of, especially for women). Inevitably, what you're left with is a bit of a mess. Sometimes the nails are bleeding and bitten down to the bottom. But most of the time, they're just jagged and awkward, like someone you're embarrassed to be with, but can't hide (subtly edging unwanted pals behind pillars or topiary is unfriendly. Not to mention quite tricky).
Nail-biting is a pretty common habit. But contrary to popular belief, it's not all about being a jittery mess. Yes, I'm sure that deep in the depths of science and psychology, nail-biting is linked to something bigger. But sometimes, it just is what it is. Some people bite because they're bored. Some because their nails are too long. I used to do it just because it felt like it was time for them to get gone. And of course, if I did one, I had to do them all. And no, those foul-tasting polishes designed to stop you from biting don't always work. You get used to the poison taste and fight through it.
I understand people's up-turned noses on the matter - it's probably unhygienic, unattractive, a bit weird. But they think by describing the act as 'gnawing' - a word we associate with toothy rats - we'll cease 'gnawing' immediately, having realised that it sounds, looks and just is horrific. And for a long time, I caved into the haters. I hid my tiny talons as much as I could in public (moving my hands faster than a suspicious magician, putting them in my pockets etc). I apologized for doing something that didn't affect anyone, including myself, really. Even accepted that 'nail biting damages your IQ' (cheers, Russian research). But there came a point where I had to draw the line.
And that was when someone slapped my hand as I was biting. Someone that wasn't my mum, or any of my immediate family, actually. Someone I'd met recently. As if they felt it was their duty to rid the world of such an AWFUL THING. Like I was a criminal who must receive a punishment when caught in the act. Like them batting my hand from my mouth is for the good of society, and for me, too.
Although I have to admit, I don't have to deal with nail-biting furor much anymore. A while ago, I realised how much I loved nail polish (I dabbled in my teens but that was more for rebelling purposes). Having painted nails became my new addiction. My nails haven't been bare for about six years, and for some reason I'm not compelled to bite them when they're slick with Ciate Dangerous Affair. Give me a nail in the nuddy though, and the compulsion returns.
To all of the haters (and strangely, there are a lot), there's just one thing I have to say: stop casting your judging eye over my cuticles, and move your palm away from my hand. I'm trying to bite my nails, here. Jeez.